As we enter the heart of a campaign season during these uncertain times, one thing remains certain: Election Day will still take place on Nov. 3, 2020, as required by law. Any potential change of date was immediately dismissed last week by Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, as well as the White House chief of staff. But to maintain public confidence in our electoral process, our states and counties must also implement protocols and safeguards to ensure maximum ballot integrity.
To date, over 65,000 mail ballots have been rejected in primaries this year for arriving after the return deadline. This does not include the additional tens of thousands of ballots that have been thrown out because of a mismatched signature, lack of signature or other mistakes that would not have occurred if the elector voted in person.
If the rise in mail voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the reality that mail ballots can be easily rejected. A delayed and overwhelmed postal system paired with a lack of administrative oversight in the mail ballot process means that voters have little opportunity to fix fatal ballot errors to ensure their votes count.
While on average only a small percentage of the total mail ballots returned are rejected, the sheer volume of voters who have opted to vote by mail means that these slightly increased percentages equate to a staggering number of ballots — and disenfranchised voters.
For instance, nearly 150,000 mail ballots were rejected in just three states’ primary elections this year, each of which had less than a 2% rejection rate – 18,500 (1.3%) in Florida, 102,000 (1.5%) in California, and 23,000 (1.8%) in Wisconsin. As November gets closer, even a small percentage of rejected ballots could make the difference for candidates running in hotly contested races.
Mail ballots are already three times more likely to be rejected than ballots cast in person, and with nearly every state expanding mail voting, it is inevitable that mail ballots will continue to be thrown out at alarming rates leading up to and in November.
But the fact that mail ballots are rejected at higher rates cannot be the justification for relaxing invaluable election integrity safeguards. As someone who has advocated for voting rights for over 20 years, no amount of voter fraud or suppression should be tolerated within our electoral system.
Pointing to the rate at which mail ballots are rejected and demanding that common-sense election procedures be abandoned would be to jeopardize the integrity of the other 98% of mail ballots that are properly cast and counted.
These election integrity procedures – like requiring the mail ballot to be returned on time or that the ballot be signed by the voter – provide necessary checks to mail voting that ensure integrity in the absence of direct oversight from election officials that exists when an elector votes in person.
Protections of the process help voters have confidence in the accuracy of results when voting by mail, just as when voting in person.
Rather than trying to use the fact that ballots are disqualified as an excuse to relax election security, election officials and nonprofit organizations should educate voters how to properly cast their mail ballots so that they all are properly counted.
How can you, as a voter, ensure that your mail ballot counts? First, request your ballot early and return it promptly. The USPS says it requires a minimum of 15 days to transmit and return a ballot, and voters would be wise to allow even more time to ensure their ballots are returned by the deadline in their states.
Second, follow all ballot instructions carefully. Is there an inner envelope your ballot must be sealed within before placing in an outer envelope for mailing? Do you need to sign the inner and/or outer envelope? Does your signature need to be witnessed or notarized? Do you need to provide some other form of identification?
Third, check if your state or county has a system that allows you to track your ballots throughout the process – as it is received, processed, and counted. Check if your state or county has a means to “cure” your ballot if it is rejected and what the deadline is for doing so.
If voters follow these steps, it will help ensure every eligible voter’s ballot is counted while also bolstering much needed public confidence in our electoral system.